Kurt Busch’s impressive sixth-place finish in the 98th Indianapolis 500 earned the 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion the prestigious Sunoco Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year Award at Monday night’s Victory Awards Celebration at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Busch is the first NASCAR driver to win the Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year Award since Donnie Allison finished fourth and earned the award in the 1970 Indianapolis 500.
Two other drivers who won the Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year Award before moving over to NASCAR were Tim Richmond in 1980 and Tony Stewart in 1996.
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Busch received a check for $423,889, which included a $25,000 bonus from Sunoco. He was part of a five-car effort at Andretti Autosport that also included Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay.
"I was able to achieve my dream this month at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and it was an incredible experience," Busch said. "I was completely blown away by the experience.
"The Hulman-George Family has been able to continue this great tradition with it all coming together on Race Day at the Indianapolis 500. I’ve never experienced anything like it. I’ve been to 15 Daytona 500s, that many Brickyard 400s, but the Indy 500 will blow you away."
Hunter-Reay earned $2,491,194 from an overall purse of $14,231,760 for his victory in Sunday’s Indianapolis 500. He praised Busch’s effort in his first-ever Indianapolis 500.
"I’ve been impressed by Kurt since Day One," Hunter-Reay said. "He came in with the right attitude, the right outlook on this whole thing. He approached it from a rookie perspective and really worked with his teammates. That’s the great thing about jumping in at Andretti; you have four other guys, four other drivers with strong cars that you can lean on. And he used that, for sure. And he contributed to the effort all month. He found some setup stuff and his engineer Craig Hampson, he’s won a lot of championships, that engineer, Craig. They did a great job all month. He made one little mistake in practice and it caught him out. It’s easy to happen around here. It happens to anybody. In the race, kind of settle it and fell back a little bit and the team gave him great pit stops and he started making the car more comfortable. He finished sixth.
"In his first Indy 500? Atta boy."
Busch started 12th and dropped to as low as 20th place but fought his way through the field to finish sixth.
"I was thinking about this after the race," Hunter-Reay said. "It was not easy out there yesterday. It was hot, so the car was moving around more than it did the entire month. It was not easy and Kurt did a great job his first time in an open-wheel car.
"Certain things about the car surprised him and other things, he’s a racer. It’s got four wheels on it. Get in it and go out there and drive it.
"Now we’ve got to talk him into doing the Streets of Toronto or something and see how it goes."
Busch actually got a little choked up when he talked about the opportunity he received from IndyCar team owner Michael Andretti.
"Several years ago when I was looking for a career opportunity I talked with Michael Andretti about being part of a possible NASCAR team," Busch said of a discussion in 2012. "I looked over at one of Michael’s Indy cars and asked, ‘How about a ride in one of those?’
"Michael said, ‘Kid, you can have a ride in one of my Indy cars any time.’
"I have to thank Michael for giving me this incredible opportunity."